College Sports in the Realm of Bonesville
Friday, March 18, 2005
Publisher & Editor
Hope justified as historical
East Carolina has been groping, searching,
stumbling in the darkness for decades, looking for that distant glimmer of
light it could focus on to stagger out of the basketball wilderness.
A motley assortment of coaches ranging from
good, to mediocre, to bad, to shady has shuffled in and out the revolving
door since the Pirates began playing a major college schedule in the
'sixties. Each of them left the program in more or less the same frustrating
state of suspended animation it was in when he arrived.
Could it be that the ever-growing network of
coaches and administrators with direct or indirect connections to ECU's
historic struggles on the hardwood
has suddenly spun off the new leader that will guide the Pirates out of
Ricky Stokes, whose pedigree traces
directly to the
only two figures with East Carolina ties that are associated with college
basketball royalty, holds that kind of
Terry Holland, ECU's AD with a purpose,
turned to one of his own this week when he selected Stokes
to tackle the maze that befuddled those before him dating back to
Wendell Carr and Tom Quinn.
Stokes, one of the School of Holland's star
pupils during Virginia's domination of the Atlantic Coast Conference in the
early 'eighties, knows firsthand what it takes as a player and a
coach to climb to the upper reaches of the college hoops universe.
He played on two Final Four
teams, an Elite Eight club and a Sweet 16 squad at UVa, and his career path
has included an apprenticeship as a graduate assistant to Holland (1984-85) and
a pair of stints as a key aide to Dave Odom at Wake Forest (1989-97) and South
In the intervening years, Stokes served on
staffs at Bowling Green (under Jim Larranaga, a former Holland assistant), Virginia
(under Jeff Jones, a former teammate and longtime Holland assistant) and Texas
(under Rick Barnes).
In a career stop
relevant to the test that confronts him at ECU, he then took on the task of trying to
elevate Virginia Tech from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East as head coach of
the Hokies (1999-2003).
The parallels between the challenges faced
by Tech in that monumental jump were strikingly similar to ECU's
kiss-and-a-prayer leap from the Colonial Athletic Association to Conference
The talent Stokes recruited to Blacksburg
in those years was at the core of VPI's startling success in this, the
school's inaugural year in the ACC. Stokes' successor at Tech, Seth
Greenberg named this week as ACC Coach of the Year has acknowledged as
Does Stokes have the answer to ECU's basketball
I am reminded of a conversation a
couple of reporters, including yours truly, had twenty-some years ago with the man who
would become the biggest influence in Stokes' coaching life.
No, not Holland.
Odom, Stokes' longtime boss at Wake and USC, is the mentor I'm talking about.
In the final year of dutifully beating his
head against the wall as East Carolina's head basketball coach (1979-82),
Odom talked from the heart about how fond he was of the school, the community
and the region,
yet how impossible the burden was to be the guardian of the orphan hoops
Like all of his predecessors and
successors, he alluded directly or indirectly to the Atlantic Coast
Conference basketball gorilla hovering over the landscape and the resulting
genetically-evolved concentration of focus and resources on football at ECU.
Not long after that, for the sake of his
sanity not to mention his professional future the Goldsboro native and
holder of a graduate degree from ECU ('69) felt compelled to trade in his head
coach's whistle to hook up as an assistant with Holland in Charlottesville.
History demonstrates that move was a good
one for Dave Odom. He progressed from being an elite assistant with the
Cavaliers, to becoming a member of that small fraternity of college
basketball movers and shakers as head coach of the Demon Deacons, then the
Along the way, he apparently continued to
ponder the puzzle he left behind at East Carolina, followed the program
over the years and by all recent indications eventually concluded the plight of the
Pirates was not necessarily one of permanent despair.
Odom encouraged his friend, professional
soul mate and fellow eastern North Carolinian, Holland, to take a jab at
harnessing ECU's unique assets. Not long thereafter, he
endorsed Skip Holtz as a candidate to right the listing Pirate football
Now, Ricky Stokes, a sparkplug on Holland's
dynasty teams at UVa and, subsequently, a fixture alongside Odom for ten
seasons as an assistant coach, will take a shot at unraveling the enigma
that is ECU basketball.
Odom has experienced the challenge
firsthand and has since observed and analyzed it from afar. Holland had a
front row seat this season to observe the perplexing phenomenon and saw for
himself the obstacles and the continuation of the decades-long tendency to excuse the present
and look vaguely to the future.
Which brings us full circle.
Both men, it seems, see the potential for
their mutual friend, Ricky Stokes, to overcome that mindset and bring an end to the ever-repeating
cycle of gloom. And friends don't send friends into hopeless
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02/23/2007 01:37:46 AM